What is the difference between meritorious acts and wholesome acts

By meritorious acts “Punna” I mean activities such as practising generosity, going on pilgrimages and helping others etc and wholesome acts “Kusala” are those associated with renunciation, practising Samatha and Vipassana etc.
The Budhdha has said that all formations are impermanent “Sabbe Sanskara anichcha”. He also said that even Dhamma should not be clung to but should be used as a means to cross over. In this context, I understand that we should focus only on wholesome acts and they too should not be clung to as Mine, I am and Myself but let go at the proper time. Also at every passing moment we generate aggregates “Pancha Upadanaskhanda” whether we perform meritorious or wholesome acts and according to the Budhdha all five aggregates are Dukkha. "Sankiththena Pancha Upadanaskhanda Dukkha"
Please provide some insight into this paradox that I am in.
With Mettha
Nimal

as i see it, meritorious acts are subsumed under wholesome acts being an isolated case of wholesome action

i don’t however remember reading that the Buddha encouraged pilgrimages, performance of ritualistic acts i think falls under the hindrance of attachment to rites and rituals

Maybe not a ritual or a pilgrimage, but…

DN16 (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.16.1-6.vaji.html)

Ananda’s Concern
15. “Formerly, Lord, on leaving their quarters after the rains, the bhikkhus would set forth to see the Tathagata, and to us there was the gain and benefit of receiving and associating with those very revered bhikkhus who came to have audience with the Blessed One and to wait upon him. But, Lord, after the Blessed One has gone, we shall no longer have that gain and benefit.”

Four Places of Pilgrimage
16. "There are four places, Ananda, that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence. What are the four?
17. "‘Here the Tathagata was born!’ This, Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.
18. "'Here the Tathagata became fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment!'
This, Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.
19. "‘Here the Tathagata set rolling the unexcelled Wheel of the Dhamma!’ This, Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.
20. "‘Here the Tathagata passed away into the state of Nibbana in which no element of clinging remains!’ This, Ananda, is a place that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence.
21. "These, Ananda, are the four places that a pious person should visit and look upon with feelings of reverence. And truly there will come to these places, Ananda, pious bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, laymen and laywomen, reflecting: 'Here the Tathagata was born! Here the Tathagata became fully enlightened in unsurpassed, supreme Enlightenment! Here the Tathagata set rolling the unexcelled Wheel of the Dhamma! Here the Tathagata passed away into the state of Nibbana in which no element of clinging remains!'
22. “And whoever, Ananda, should die on such a pilgrimage with his heart established in faith, at the breaking up of the body, after death, will be reborn in a realm of heavenly happiness.”

I don’t fully understand this sutta for the same reason you just exposed: [quote=“LXNDR, post:2, topic:2660”]
i think falls under the hindrance of attachment to rites and rituals
[/quote]

But on the other hand, I feel that he is giving an option since we no longer have access to his body or to talk to him directly.

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At least the way I see it, meritorious acts will give you ‘good’ kamma and good rebirths. Wholesome acts will get you enlightenment. I am looking for a quote of him saying something like this, but I can’t find it.

But this is from AN 5.43

Long life, beauty, status, honor,
heaven, high birth:
To those who delight
in aspiring for these things
in great measure, continuously,
the wise praise heedfulness
in making merit.

The wise person, heedful,
acquires a two-fold welfare:
welfare in this life &
welfare in the next.
By breaking through to his welfare
he’s called prudent,
wise.

indeed there’s a difference between a mechanistic pilgrimage performed as a formality just because it’s prescribed and a pilgrimage out of a genuine pious emotion and it’s rather the state of mind such emotion breeds which is beneficial

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http://dharmafarer.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/4.13-Vitthara-Kamma-S-a4.232-piya.pdf

Wholesome acts, as you put it, are here referred to as neither black nor white kamma with neither black nor white result; this sort of kamma leads to the cessation of kamma.

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Thanks everyone for your replies. My actual concern is this. I know there are not only lay people but monks also who engage in various activities such as already mentioned. The purpose of following the path shown by the Budhdha is to achieve ultimate liberation “Nibbana” which can only be achieved by completely eliminating desire “tanha”.

Someone practising meritorious activities whether a lay person or a monk does so with an element of desire. Even visiting the four places recommended by the Budhdha himself requires intention which originates from desire. I fully understand that it is very difficult if not impossible for someone who is determined to reach at least Sotapanna to do so in this very life. But I guess there are those who have achieved such noble status and they have done so by totally dedicating their life to the practice. Only thing they do as far as I know is teaching the good Dhamma to others. They do not engage in any other activities.

My understanding is that meritorious activities will prolong the journey through Samsara or as some say they will make the journey more palatable. Whereas wholesome acts ie Samatha / Vipassana if practised steadfastly eliminate “tanha” and open the way to Nibbana in this very life.

My personal problem is that I am being invited to participate in many kinds of meritorious acts such as fund raising etc and they invariably take up my valuable time which I could otherwise use for meditation or reading Dhamma. And these acts are motivated by “tanha”. If someone were to follow the Budhdha’s advice literally “Nothing is worth clinging onto” how can he/she make a choice.

I know it is very difficult to make very clear cut choices in a situation like this but at least if someone can provide a theoretically correct answer that would be highly appreciated.
With Mettha.

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There is a kind of desire that is wholesome, like the desire for the cessation of duhkha, desire to meditate, desire to do wholesome acts. It is not exactly desire what causes the problem/suffering, but the kind of desire and the attachment to such desire.
I remember a monk (it could have been Ajahn Brahm or Brahmali actually) saying that in order for him to give a talk, he had to have the desire first, plan in advance, set up everything, leave the monastery before hand and so on, but that was good desire. On the other hand, if he had attachment for an outcome, there would be a problem. If there is attachment to the idea of the talk and then something happens and the talk does not take place, or it is a ‘disaster’, then suffering would arise, and there is nothing skilful/wholesome about that.

As indicated here, you can perform such activities if you do it in order to walk the path, not just to show off to you friends or because you ‘have to’. In which cases you would not be doing anything skilful.

In my opinion, it would really depend on what your intentions are when you participate in this activities. Sure, you could stay in and meditate, I think that is more skilful and leading to the cessation of suffering than giving money or giving a speech, but unless you are ready to seriously meditate until you reach nibbana, I think it is fine to do some merit, that will help you get better rebirths and circumstances for future practice.

I lead a meditation group and try to teach the damma, I give therapy to people and donate most of my time, I don’t do it just for the merit, I do it because I think it is a skilful way to use my time, it helps others and I am not ready to ‘just’ meditate 24/7.

It all goes back to you, what are you ready to do now and how do you better prepare for the future practice.

I like this quote from Dhp 118

Puññaṃ cé puriso kariyā
kayirāth étaṃ punappunaṃ
tamhi chandaṃ kayirātha
sukhó puññassa uccayó

Should a person do good,
let them do it again and again.
Let them find pleasure therein,
for blissful is the accumulation of good.

The way I interpret it, the accumulation of good (puñña) leads to states of bliss (piti [gladness], sukham [rapture]).

These are factors for liberation. So accumulating puñña must be the right way. For example, SN12.23 Upanisa Sutta:

…pāmojjaṃ, pāmojjūpanisā pīti, pītūpanisā passaddhi, passad­dhū­pani­saṃ sukhaṃ, sukhūpaniso samādhi, samādhūpanisaṃ yathā­bhūta­ñāṇadas­sanaṃ, yathā­bhūta­ñāṇadas­sanūpa­nisā nibbidā, nibbidūpaniso virāgo, virāgūpanisā vimutti, vimuttūpanisaṃ khayeñāṇaṃkhayeñāṇaṃ

…with faith as proximate cause, gladness; with gladness as proximate cause, rapture; with rapture as proximate cause, tranquillity; with tranquillity as proximate cause, happiness; with happiness as proximate cause, concentration; with concentration as proximate cause, the knowledge and vision of things as they really are; with the knowledge and vision of things as they really are as proximate cause, revulsion; with revulsion as proximate cause, dispassion; with dispassion as proximate cause, liberation; with liberation as proximate cause, the knowledge of destruction.

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absolutely subscribe to the answer

in Unnabhabrahmana sutta (SN 51.15) Ven Ananda explains how desire is overcome with desire (English translation)

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Not exactly expressed in this text, but this raises another benefit of doing merit, it gives us the conditions to establish concentration and then meditate and/or do wholesome actions. Who here can meditate properly with regret in their minds?

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Please don’t think like this! Meritorious acts will shorten your journey through saṃsāra.

Bhikkhus, do not be afraid of merit. This is a designation for happiness, [89] that is, merit. (AN 7.62).

And happiness is the fuel for meditation.

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Thank you Bhante for your input. Even though I raised this question I have not given up on meritorious deeds. My problem is I am unable to reconcile what the Blessed One said in the first discourse “Sankiththena Panchupadanakkhanda Dukkha” with performance of meritorious deeds. As I understand whether it is meritorious, demeritorious, wholesome or unwholesome one generates Khandas. And they are all Dukkha.

This leads me to think that what is at issue is the practical nature of the teaching. Because not everyone can reach Nibbana in one life time hence the necessity to acquire merits along the way.

khandhas are generated as long as life lasts regardless of one’s level of spiritual accomplishment, it’s only the association with them and considering them as “I, me, myself” which produces dukkha

there’s a difference between khandha and upadanakkhandha, it’s the latter which are dukkha as the saying goes Panch-upadanakkhandha Dukkha

the content of the sutta however indicates that merit secured the Buddha happy rebirth destination having been born where he didn’t necessarily practiced for the sake of nibbana

Remember the training is gradual. In other words, you cannot go from producing ordinary five khandhas (of the human sort for example) straight to producing none at all. You need the intermediary stages. These stages are equivalent to producing more and more refined khandhas (more and more refined levels of rebirth) until your mind is so pure it can make an end of the whole process.

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Thanks Bhante once again for your input. The Parivimansa Sutta, SN 12.51 is a case in point in this respect.

"As he thoroughly investigates he understands thus: ‘Volitional formations have ignorance as their source, ignorance as their origin; they are born and produced from ignorance. When there is ignorance, volitional formations come to be; when there is no ignorance, volitional formations do not come to be.’

“He understands volitional formations, their origin, their cessation, and the way leading on that is in conformity with their cessation. He practises that way and conducts himself accordingly. This is called a bhikkhu who is practising for the utterly complete destruction of suffering, for the cessation of volitional formations.
“Bhikkhus,_ if a person immersed in ignorance generates a meritorious volitional formation, consciousness fares
on to the meritorious; if he generates a demeritorious volitional formation, consciousness fares on to the demeritorious; if he generates an imperturbable volitional formation, consciousness fares on to the imperturbable._
But when a bhikkhu has abandoned ignorance and aroused true knowledge, then, with the fading away of ignorance and the arising of true knowledge, he does not generate a meritorious volitional formation, or a demeritorious volitional formation, or an imperturbable volitional formation. Since he does not generate or fashion volitional formations, he does not cling to anything in the world. Not clinging, he is not agitated. Not being agitated, he personally attains Nibbāna. He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’ If he feels a painful feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’ If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached.

“When he feels a feeling terminating with the body, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with the body.’ When he feels a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here; mere bodily remains will be left.’

“Suppose, bhikkhus, a man would remove a hot clay pot from a potter’s kiln and set it on smooth ground: its heat would be dissipated right there and potsherds would be left. So too, when he feels a feeling terminating with the body … terminating with life…. He understands: ‘With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here; mere bodily remains will be left.’ “What do you think, bhikkhus, can a bhikkhu whose taints are destroyed generate a meritorious volitional formation, or a demeritorious volitional formation, or an imperturbable volitional formation?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“When there are utterly no volitional formations, with the cessation of volitional formations, would consciousness be discerned?” “No, venerable sir.”

“When there is utterly no consciousness, with the cessation of consciousness, would name-and-form be discerned?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“When there is utterly no name-and-form … no six sense bases … … no contact … no feeling … no craving … no clinging … no existence … no birth, with the cessation of birth, would aging-and-death be discerned?”

“No, venerable sir.”

“Good, good, bhikkhus! It is exactly so and not otherwise! Place faith in me about this, bhikkhus, resolve on this. Be free from perplexity and doubt about this. Just this is the end of suffering.”"